Just 800 yards (732 meters) from Lower Manhattan, Governors Island has long been an important historical landmark in New York Harbor. Home to two major military landmarks—Fort Jay and Castle Williams—it was used in defensive campaigns beginning in the 18th century. Today, it’s a popular summer retreat and easily accessible by ferry.
Originally settled by the Lenape people, Governors Island was first known as “Nut Island,” thanks to its plenitude of oak, chestnut, and hickory trees. The island was later occupied by the Dutch and then the British; its current name comes from the fact that it was the summer residence for the British royal governor during the colonial period. Also valued for its defensive position during the Revolutionary War, it became one of the longest continually operated military bases in the United States. Technically part of the borough of Manhattan, the island is both home to a National Monument of New York (administered by the National Park Service) and a popular summer day-trip destination for Big Apple denizens after a touch of leafy tranquility.
Governors Island features on numerous New York Harbor cruise itineraries and can also be glimpsed from the air during helicopter tours.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Governors Island is car-free, but bikes offer an accessible way to explore the island’s miles of trails.
- Leading contemporary artist Rachel Whiteread has a permanent installation on the island: Cabin, located on Discovery Hill.
- Free, ranger-led tours are available for both Fort Jay and Castle Williams.
- The island has two food courts: Liggett Terrace Food Court and King Avenue Food Court. Visitors are also welcome to bring picnic meals (but no alcohol).
How to Get There
In season, daily ferries to Governors Island depart from Manhattan’s South Street Seaport; weekend ferries also depart regularly from Brooklyn’s Pier 6. Tickets can be purchased for a small fee from booths near the piers. All ferries are wheelchair-accessible and are free to ride on weekends before 12pm.
When to Get There
Governors Island is open to the public from May 1 to October 31 each year. It hosts a number of popular arts and recreational events, including the Jazz Age Lawn Party (a summertime event that invites participants to dress up in 1920s outfits and dance along to live jazz) and the New York City Poetry Festival (held on the last weekend of July).